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What Does The Future Hold for Temple Works?

· Joseph Sheerin

Temple Works, Redevelopment Plans

One Leeds’ most iconic industrial buildings could be redeveloped as a major cultural and learning hub as the city looks to preserve its heritage.

At the heart of the Holbeck Urban Village lies one of Leeds’ most iconic structures. Completed in 1840, the majestic Egyptian-influenced Temple Works is a triumph of Victorian design, architecture and construction.

However, for a countless years, the stature of Temple Works has been done a disservice, with the main room in a state of particular disrepair. Numerous plans and proposals have been put forward for its redevelopment, but, despite the fact that the surrounding joiners shop, external sheds and even the old canteen have all been put to good use by some of the city’s cultural institutions, the crux of the old flax mill is still in need of some major TLC, and all important investment.

Having once held the imperious honour of being home to the largest room in the world, it seems an utter shame for the Grade I listed Temple Works, modelled on the Temple of Horus at Edfu to be in such a dilapidated state. But finally it seems like there are movements to save a vital part of the South Bank.

What are the plans?

Temple Works in Leeds

Nothing has been given the green light yet, but we’re hopeful that it’s only a matter of time before the ball starts rolling. The current third-party ownership is unable to move forward with the building’s redevelopment, so it has fallen to Leeds City Council to take the initiative to give Temple Works a future it deserves.

They have been approached by Leeds-based developers Citu who have in turn put forward a set of realistic proposals for the project that will command an eight-figure sum and see a “comprehensive repair and refurbishment” of Temple Works.

The aim is to create a “cultural and learning centre” at the heart of the Holbeck Urban Village. Over the next few years the changes at Leeds’ South Bank are going to be coming under increased scrutiny as the remnants of the city’s industrial past look to be integrated with the new developments proposed for the area.

With plans for One Leeds and the Ruth Gorse Academy beginning to take shape, there’s a desire from everyone, Leeds City Council and the people it represents, to preserve the elements of the South Bank that are necessary for Leeds to retain its character, all the while making good on an area of the city that needs investment.

Once the repair and refurbishment is completed, Citu will take ownership of the building, and are hoping to create a mixed-use institution that will “add to the current cultural offer in the city and attract international touring modern art exhibitions and events” all while integrating it into the building and city’s heritage.

How can all this happen?

Achieving any of this will be a major success, because it’s a very complicated project, to say the least. Due to the cost and commitment of the Temple Works project, neither the current owners or Leeds City Council are in a position to be able to invest with such deep pockets.

Instead, Citu and Leeds City Council are working together to find a viable outcome. The Leeds based developers are seeking a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which will allow them to invest sufficiently in the building to get it back to a working state, but it all requires a lot of co-operation from the council.

As well as Temple Works – which will only come under the ownership of Citu, and the charitable trust they are setting up for the project, once the refurb is completed – Citu are wanting to take ownership of the neighbouring areas along Bath Road and Leodis Court.

These council-owned sites are vital to the success of any redevelopment of Temple Works. The suggestion is that these areas will allow Citu to also construct residential and leisure units, as well as an open public space – all of which could help the success of the investment in the future, as well as supporting proposals for the rest of the South Bank.

But here is where it gets a little tricky – for a Heritage Lottery Fund bid to succeed it requires ‘matched funding’ (an amount of investment from those behind a project to match the grant’s value), which is a sign of commitment for all those involved. In this instance, the value of the Council-owned properties would equate to that of the grant, financially securing the repairs and refurbishment.

Well, can it succeed?

Temple Works at sunset, Jim Moran

It’s about time that this iconic building was put into good use, but it may ruffle a few feathers in the city. There are a number of organisations and institutions in Leeds that already look at bringing culture and learning together under one roof, and do it successfully.

However, as Citu outlines in the report to the Executive Board, if there is an intention to work with these other outfits, then the scheme for Temple Works could be a feather bow in the cap of the city’s regeneration, and possibly prove to be the kind of work that is fitting of a potential European Capital of Culture.

There is a need to blend the old and new together with a conscience, and there are few buildings that deserve to be threaded into a thriving area than Temple Works. But, this isn’t to take away from the great work a number of companies have done in maintaining the building’s use of the past number of years – in fact, they’ve been the ones that have highlighted how it could be used, and shown the inventiveness of the city’s most creative minds. Perhaps, their projects can continue to be included in the Temple Works programme?

The time scheme for this mammoth undertaking is not a short one. Once this report goes in front of the Executive Committee of Leeds City Council in November 2014, it will pave the way for a more detailed investigation to come to fruition by April 2015, and only then can the detailed planning of infrastructure, ownership and funding really move forwards.

Regardless, it’s about time Temple Works had a firm future placed ahead of it. If Citu and Leeds City Council can work together to make it happen, in a way that can not only boosts the regeneration of the South Bank but also complement the changes there, then it could be a fine start to another Leeds success story.

Temple Works at sunset image courtesy of Jim Moran.